The Scottish Independence Convention

Driving into Scotland after 2014
Driving into Scotland after 2014.
Yesterday I took part in the Scottish Independence Convention in Glasgow. There was a great buzz – it’s clear there are many thousands of activists who are desperate to go out and campaign for independence as soon as they get a chance.

The day was divided into three sessions: Policy, strategy and movement.

The policy session was a bit weak – there were lots of interesting ideas floating around, but a voice inside my head kept shouting that we’re living in an age of fake news and social media, and having wonderful, worked-through policies won’t really matter during a campaign. For instance, I’m a great fan of a citizens’ income, but I’m not convinced that’s the kind of thing that would really matter in a heated campaign (and in a worst-case scenario, it would allow our opponents to portray us as hopeless idealists).

One sentence that stayed with me was Jim Mather’s comment that “Last time was like a tennis game where only Better Together were allowed to serve” (quoted from memory). I think that’s a great summary of the campaign, but is developing a lot of policies really the right way to prevent that from happening again? I’m not so sure. The problem wasn’t that we couldn’t return the ball, but that we never served. We need to have more questions for the other side and to be much less passive.

The strategy session was by far the best bit. Craig Dalzell talked about opinion polls and what they tell us about Yes and No voters. It was interesting, and surprising in parts, such as when he pointed out that support for independence has dropped to 75% amongst SNP voters, and that we have a real problem with women over 55. Two things that I don’t think Craig mentioned was looking at how Leave/Remain corresponds to Yes/No, and to what extent the support for independence is caused by where you live – for instance, is the North East turning Unionist?

Stewart Kirkpatrick was better than I’ve ever heard him – he’s clearly done a lot of heavy thinking about what went wrong last time. One recommendation he made was setting up a lot of very specific Yes groups, such as Pensioners for Yes. I think this is a wonderful idea, and one that should happen now.

One thing Stewart didn’t mention – but I think it relates to this – is that this needs to be connected to chapping doors. As a Danish Yes activist, talking to random voters isn’t a great use of my time – it easily becomes a talk about why I ended up in Scotland. I should be talking to immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands, because I think I’d be better at convincing them of the merits of voting Yes than an activist who was born and bred in Scotland. In the same ways, activists from England, those who are working in the NHS, the pensioners, the Leave voters, and so on, should all be sent to be right doors. In other words, Yes Scotland II should create a database of people’s origins and interests and use this to make activists chap on the right doors.

As the last bit of this session, Lesley Riddoch hosted an interactive session where she was walking around the hall with a microphone. It was probably the best bit of the day – there were just so many knowledgable people there with really interesting things to say.

The movement session was weak. Tommy Sheppard spoke well on behalf of the SNP, but most of the speakers couldn’t keep to their allocated time, and even though many interesting things were said, I couldn’t really concentrate any longer.

Finally Patrick Harvie gave a rousing speech to send us all off.

If the SIC are to hold another event like this (and I hope they do!), here are a few bits of advice: (1) Fewer speakers: Although almost all the speakers were interesting, it was too much for one day. Perhaps it’d be better to have parallel sessions. (2) More interaction: Most people were desperate to talk. There should be more interactive sessions, and perhaps also an opportunity to break up into smaller groups to discuss specific topics. (3) A buffet lunch: All 800 of us were supposed to find a place to have lunch, finish it and come back within a hour. It would have been better to have had a huge buffet lunch for everybody so that you could have a good blether while eating.

One general sentiment that I picked up was that people are desperate to start campaigning again. However, waiting for the SNP to fire the starting gun is pointless, because we need as much time as possible to convince people. At the same time, it’s hard to campaign without some sort of central office, so we need some sort of Yes Scotland II to be set up as a matter of priority. I think the Scottish Independence Convention might have to play that role, given that all major players seem to be happy to work with them.

If the SIC are happy to become Yes Scotland II, I don’t see why we can’t start campaigning tomorrow to create the majority for independence that we need to escape the hard and chaotic Brexit that Theresa May and her merry Brexiteers have in store for the UK.

13 thoughts on “The Scottish Independence Convention

  • 16/01/2017 at 09:55
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    Very good summary of the day Thomas. I agree with just about everything you’ve said. However I would like to add a couple of points. You talk of SIC becoming Yes Scotland II. I am not convinced of this, at least on the evidence of their inability to run Saturday’s event properly. They couldn’t even start on time. 10.30 is a pretty late start and if 800 people from all over Scotland can arrive on time, there is simply no justification for the event to not start on time.
    If SIC are to publish a very detailed timetable for the day, they have to stick to it. It’s not rocket science, you just tell all speakers that the mike will be switched off after their 10 minutes is up. Their failure to ensure the smooth running of the day is indicative of a self indulgent approach. Which is the last thing we need in a body aiming to coordinate a campaign.
    My second issue is with the prominence given to
    Common Weal. Nothing against them, but why were they allowed to make 2 or was it 3 appeals for money? I also feel that allowing Robin Macalpine to take over one session to promote his group’s White Paper was again a bit of an indulgence. As a supposedly interactive session it left a lot to be desired. The White Paper is a fine initiative and deserved much better than this.
    If SIC are to run future events I hope they follow your 3 recommendations.

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    • 16/01/2017 at 13:55
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      Agree with you regarding Common Weal..It seemed to be their event. It made me uneasy.

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    • 19/01/2017 at 08:39
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      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Alister!

      I completely agree that the event was badly organised, but I’m not convinced that shows how they’d act if they became YS2, hiring a least a couple of full-time members of staff. Their performance would depend mostly on who they hired, not on their track record. The advantage of transforming the SIC into YS2 is that it can get started now, rather than waiting for the SNP to set it up.

      And yes, I agree with your criticism of the focus on the Common Weal session. In particular, I thought Robin MacAlpine’s questions to the audience were designed to elicit a specific response, and also a rather pointless use of 800 people’s time.

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  • 16/01/2017 at 11:09
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    Great summary Thomas. I do think we need far more input this time from different voices. Brexit needs to be discussed as a real concern much more. I was disappointed at how little Brexit and the plight of EU citizens was even discussed at the conference.

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    • 19/01/2017 at 08:40
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      Yes, I agree. Time is ticking, but many people at the conference acted as if we had all the time in the world.

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  • 16/01/2017 at 12:24
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    Very good summary Thomas. I would like to see the proposal from the floor, i believe the persons name is Cammy Fraser, in which he called for every door in Scotland to be given a updated version of The Wee Blue Book. Of course the cost of this could be raised through crowd funding & im sure would reach its target costs easily. With so many activists at its disposal Yes Scotland has the potential to deliver this to every household in Scotland.
    As for SIC becoming Yes Scotland 2, im in agreement with Alistair on that matter. Could have sold the venue 3 x over, just as well they didn’t otherwise i’d just be getting home around now.
    As for Brexit, i believe it was said at the convention by a speaker, maybe Stewart Kilpatrick ?, that both Brexit & Indy are diff issues and it would be best not to tie Indy with the Brexit vote. That in itself maybe true, but it is the opportunity it has presented for Indyref2 that we should take advantage of & use to our advantage.

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    • 19/01/2017 at 08:46
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      Hi Robert, see my comment to Alister above. As for linking Indyref2 to Brexit, I think it’s unavoidable to some extent. I don’t think the EU or Brexit should be mentioned on the ballot paper (I think the wording used in Indyref1 was fine), but obviously this is a massive change in circumstances, and there is currently a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament, so if we don’t go for it now, when will we?

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  • Pingback:Common Weal’s White Paper 1 | Alister Rutherford

  • 16/01/2017 at 15:01
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    I think two parallel campaigns might run. One with all the positive reasons for an independent Scotland. One that opens up the history of Westminster government. For example, health inequalities – big, complex subject with lots of literature and research around it.

    The messing up of the oil and gas industry and a comparison with Norway. The potential for Scotland’s O&G industry still to flourish.

    The wrecking in progress of electricity generation in Scotland.

    Financial mismanagement on a grand scale. And more…

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    • 19/01/2017 at 08:47
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      Hi Sam, I think we need many campaigns, not just two. For instance, the voters who voted Yes-Leave need completely different arguments from the ones who voted No-Remain, and EU citizens in Scotland should get a campaign tailored to them.

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  • 18/01/2017 at 17:06
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    Thanks for the info. Parts of it sound really interesting.

    One tip though – not a buffet lunch. Served (hot or cold) food is actually quicker as a buffet line can be almost brought to a standstill by just one person who dithers over every choice. In 800 you can be sure there will be a lot more ditherers than just 1.

    From experience at several SNP conferences.

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    • 19/01/2017 at 08:49
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      I don’t actually care about the type of lunch we’d be having! 🙂 I just want people to eat in one venue so that the whole thing doesn’t get disrupted for an hour. It would also be nice to have plenty of break-out areas with free coffee and tea, again to stimulate discussion and networking.

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      • 19/01/2017 at 14:54
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        But I bet you care how long it takes to get everybody served and that is what I was trying to get accross! In my experience, a conventional finger foods buffet takes by far and away the longest.

        Reply

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